Pioneers in SDGs Awards 2022

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Pioneers in SDGs Awards 2022
21 September 2022, Wednesday | John Jay College of Criminal Justice

SDGs Conference 2022: In the Margins of the UNGA77 was organized on 21 September 2022 at John Jay College in partnership with 36 Global Partners from 24 countries. This global platform convened 21 speakers from 15 countries, and hosted notable speakers including Ministers, UN Ambassadors, journalists, civil society leaders and academicians.

Throughout the day, in three panel sessions, high-level keynotes and expert speakers unfolded the contemporary challenges that the world leaders are also addressing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and suggested innovative, inclusive and sustainable policy suggestions for the full, effective and timely implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As the SDGs Conference is back to hybrid mode, the Journalists and Writers Foundation welcomed delegations of participants from Australia, Greece, South Africa, India, Philippines, and Kenya to attend a series of side events in-person including the JWF High-Level Reception, Roundtable on Journalism and SDGs Conference. The conference live streamed was accessible both on Zoom and JWF`s YouTube channel, which received over 19,000 views from 76 countries. The diversity of the SDGs Conference`s audience and the regional representation of the panelists addressed one of the utmost important missions of this global event contributing to SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.


Mehmet Kilic, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, delivered his remarks during the opening session and welcomed all the in-person participants at John Jay College in New York and online attendees from across the world to the 7th Annual SDGs Conference: In the Margins of the UNGA77. Mr. Kilic indicated that with the recent global crisis and humanitarian affairs, from conflicts to climate change, the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly where the world leaders are addressing so many critical agenda items in their remarks during the UNGA Debate. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres indicated that resolving these common challenges will require continued solidarity, which brings us all together at this platform, as diverse stakeholders of UN Member States, civil society leaders from different parts of the world, journalists, academicians, youth representatives, human rights experts to create a momentum for the better and full implementation of the SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

On behalf of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, Mr. Kilic shared his special thanks to the leadership at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for hosting the SDGs Conference 2022 and providing university students opportunities to meet with 35-40 international guests coming from Australia, Greece, India, South Africa, Turkey. He said that this global conference is an amazing opportunity for students to meet, engage, and share their innovative ideas with renowned diplomats, journalists, academics, human rights experts, and civil society leaders who make a positive social change worldwide.

Mehmet Kilic then introduced Brian Kerr, Ed.D., Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at John Jay College in New York as the host of the SDGs Conference 2022 to share his welcoming remarks with the global audience. Dr. Kerr stated that justice is through the lens of all the academic work at John Jay College and that this theme is relevant in this critical time of the UNGA during which the Heads of States are delivering their statements on the world’s most pressing issues. He referred to the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly by saying; “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.” This theme speaks to the shared global issues of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change. Solutions of resilience, rebuilding sustainably, and respecting the rights of people are listed as some priorities for the 77th Session of the UNGA.

Mark Klein, the Senior Director of Digital Program Management in the Technology Division at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was the first Keynote Speaker of the Opening Session at the UNGA Conference 2022. Mr. Klein spoke of ICT, or information and communication technology, which enables modern computing. “I do not need to stress we are in a technology revolution,” he said. “It is unprecedented. We have seen the world become connected and interconnected. We are able to redesign processes at a greatly reduced cost.” Mr. Klein touched upon how we use mobile devices, and the broad scope of access.

Speaking on access to healthcare, Mr. Klein cited unprecedented vaccine development, digital approaches such as telemedicine, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In education, he referred to online education at a transformational scale. Technology in education is transcending language barriers. Mr. Klein flagged two examples of rapid change: universities and healthcare systems. “ICT enables delivery of new business models, which will then work toward the progress of the SDGs,” he said.

Mr. Klein did not leave out the potential risks associated with technology, referencing technology as a “double-edged sword.” He listed cybercrime, identity theft, challenges to data privacy and data protection as issues to be addressed. Mr. Klein concluded his remarks with three points to keep in mind in answer to his rhetorical question, “What is the way forward?” Firstly, he said that society should expect change from ICT. Today’s reality will change, so there needs to be a level of flexibility maintained. Secondly, he highlighted that there needs to be an evaluation to see where ICT can help. Lastly, Mr. Klein stated, “ICT solutions alone cannot change world problems. No single organization can do this alone. The future is really about collaboration.” He emphasized that this may refer to industries that may not have historically worked together.

H.E. Ms. Charlotta Schlyter, the Ambassador and the Head of Section for Sustainable Development of the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN, was the second Keynote Speaker of the Opening Session. Her remarks focused on the progress of SDG 17, which is “partnerships for the goals,” in light of “Our Common Agenda.” In reference to the climate crisis, she said, “No country is doing enough at the moment” and added that “We need the UN more than ever,” citing a more inclusive UN where young people and civil society voices are heard more with fresh, diversified perspectives. She called the global audience`s attention to the fact that a common agenda is not a replacement, it is for sustainable progress. Her Excellency Ambassador Schlyter mentioned that SDGs must be existent in all governments and concluded, “We are great believers in the UN.”

Ambassador Schlyter talked about the importance of youth participation in the decision-making bodies of the United Nations. She said that “youth participation in civil society proved to be very important for inclusion. Youth participants, in fact, greatly pushed the Member States to make stronger pledges than they might have otherwise made.” Ambassador Schlyter underlined that we need to stay dedicated to our common agenda to make “the UN we want and need for a more inclusive world”. She closed her Keynote Remarks by quoting the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as he said, “We must now come together to save succeeding generations from war, climate change, pandemics, hunger, poverty, injustice, and a host of risks that we may not yet foresee entirely”.

PANEL SESSION 1 Global State of Peace and Conflict Resolution

Panel Session 1 focused on the “The Global State of Peace and Conflict Resolution” as the world is transitioning into a post-COVID19 era, new uprisings of crimes against humanity, the takeover of undemocratic regimes, and regional armed conflicts are occurring. Our global community is experiencing an increasing degree of militarization, while the state of peace and harmony continues to decrease due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis across the world. In response to the current global state of peace and conflict, progressive policy actions must be embraced with a dedicated political will to end devastating tensions and resolve persecutions of all forms.

The cross-cutting relation between all the trends of sustainable development requires the existence of peace not only with the absence of armed conflicts. Positive Peace is associated with the institutions, structures, and social development trends in which all fundamental human rights are respected and promoted with a comprehensive approach regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture. To sustain this constructive social, political, and environmental momentum, and achieve sustainable peace, transformational civil society organizations continue to be important stakeholders. Due to their multidimensional structure, civil leaders, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions endorse advanced levels of conflict resolution strategies, facilitate constructive dialogues among the Member States as well as local and regional communities to uphold universal human rights and sustainable development.

Mondli Makhanya, the Editor-In-Chief at City Press in South Africa, was the moderator of Panel Session 1 on “The Global State of Peace and Conflict Resolution”. He stated in his opening remarks that “Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is the presence of opportunity for people to flourish.” Mr. Makhanya cited a need to see peace more broadly and inclusively. “SDGs gave humanity an ability to measure progress to real peace,” he said. “Since the SDGs were signed by all the UN Member States, that was the beginning of progress. However, the timeline did not move that fast.” Mr. Makhanya stated, “Today we see ourselves going backward.” He continued to underline that the United Nations bodies have been calling our attention to resolve different forms of conflicts occurring throughout the world, as the state of peace is deteriorating. According to Mr. Makhanya, one of the things that took our global community back was the COVID-19 pandemic and another is the conflict in Ukraine. “These issues have diverted investment in human development,” he said and continued, “There is a chance now, in 2022, for us to recommit the next seven or eight years to progress”.

Saša Jurečkothe Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the UN was the Keynote Speaker of Panel 1. Her remarks highlighted the framework of Responsibility to Protect for sustainable peace and security. She stated that human rights must apply to everyone, everywhere in the same manner. Ms. Jurečko cited the need for “respect for international law, as it serves as a basis and guarantor of peace and security.” She reminded the Conference participants that “countries are expected to respect their obligations” in order to create peaceful and cohesive societies.

Ovais Sultan Khan, an independent human rights activist from India, was the first panelist of Panel Session 1. Mr. Khan talked about the role of civil society organizations in establishing peace and security. He said in his remarks that there are many innovative ways to foster solutions. Mr. Khan said “Unfortunately, we see peace only in the context of conflict. Our responses, reflections and reactions to conflicts are mostly considered efforts for peace. As if peace is a non-entity without a conflict. Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is much deeper and beyond.” He later highlighted the transformative change that the non-governmental stakeholders embrace.

“We will know that there are many ways to find solutions to all these complex questions and challenges of peace and security. And in this, civil society has many important roles to play. Among all these works, one has been pending for a long time, and it is needed the most today. That is the search for a vocabulary of sustainable peace. A vocabulary of diversity and plurality, inclusion and enabling,” he said, and Mr. Khan continued, “an upliftment of all humanity” is required to sustain global peace and security.

Prof. Diana de la Rua Eugenio, the President of Answer for Peace, participated in the Conference online from Argentina. She elaborated on negotiation and mediation as a key components of conflict resolution. In her remarks, Prof. de la Rua Eugenio said that conflict resolution has allowed for the survival of social groups from ancient times. “Conflict is unavoidable; it is a part of our lives. The conflict is not the problem. The violence, which is an answer to the conflict, is the problem,” she said. Prof. de la Rua Eugenio emphasized that the conflict resolution agreements must be very clear and include specifics such as who, what, where, and when. “Conflict resolution is another skill we need to face in life,” she underlined.

Prof. Henelito Sevilla, Jr., Ph.D. is a Professor and Dean of the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines Diliman. In his remarks as the third panelist, Prof. Sevilla focused on wars and conflicts as a threat to sustainable development. “For a fortunate few nations, we live in a world of peace. But many others are experiencing instability,” he said. “Diversity alone should not be the cost of conflict.” Prof. Sevilla stated that there is a clear connection between justices, resource allocation, gender, education, environmental protection, and sustainable development, hence the UN SDGs. In his remarks, he focused on two case studies: the Rohingyan Muslims in Rakhine, Myanmar and Muslims in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.


The cases of Rohingya and Mindanao demonstrate the critical role of the international community in the preservation of peace and in the initiation of activities that will bring all stakeholders to various initiatives to achieve sustainable development in the affected communities. It shows that in cases where the government is unable to perform alone, other nations and countries and civil societies can come to help, to ensure that rights are protected, and basic services are delivered to the affected population.

Vonya Womack, the Executive Director of Refugees Unknown Stories Untold, spoke on the means to ensure justice and accountability for global peace and security. Transitional justice plays a preventative role, she said, and is a key component of conflict resolution. One way to combat human rights violations is to respond with transitional justice by promoting reconciliation and democracy. Transitional justice is adapted to societies that are transforming themselves. In some cases, these transformations happen suddenly and other times they can take longer.


Ms. Womack said that restorative justice can become institutionalized and transformative justice occurs externally. She emphasized that “this is not to say other types of justice are bad.” Instead, they hold different perspectives. She mentions the description that Anthony Nocella II, Ph.D. makes to highlight the differences in justice: restorative justice implies that the system is flawed. Transformative justice looks for the good. She encouraged goal setting and taking action. She concluded her remarks with the statement, “Absence of war does not mean we are in peace.”


Panel Session 2 focused on gender-based crimes in conflict zones. Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) against women is accepted as a weapon of war by the international human rights community since the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has addressed different forms of sexual violence as war crimes. Gender-based crimes are often used to humiliate individuals and tear apart communities. Under the widespread authoritarian regimes and armed conflicts, women and girls continue to be the main subjects of this grave atrocity. Impunity against the perpetrators of CRSV, ineffective preventative mechanisms, fear of stigma, and social exclusion remain among the most challenging barriers in combatting this systemic human rights violation.

The role of women journalists and human rights defenders becomes even more fundamental in documenting CRSV. They continue to be at the forefront to monitor, report and raise awareness of the grave women`s rights violations under armed conflicts and undemocratic regimes. Revealing the truth and keeping the Member States accountable, women journalists, civil society leaders and peacebuilders are subjected to increasing violence of all forms, including cyber-attacks, violence against women journalists, human rights defenders, and peacebuilders. Impunity against such crimes and the arrogance of undemocratic state powers further escalates the violence against women human rights defenders. Regardless of the censorships, arbitrary detentions, systemic defamation campaigns, legal harassment, and killings, women human rights advocates continue their dedicated efforts to promote peace and security.

Panel Session 2 was moderated by Michael Busch, the Director of Public Programs at The Polis Project. In his opening remarks, Mr. Busch spoke of structural violence, especially directed toward women, and addressed increasing gender-based human rights violations. An example Mr. Busch cited was the occurrences due to the conflict in Ukraine of rape, which has been deployed as a weapon of war. “Women are bearing the brunt of people on the ground,” he said. Other examples included Ethiopia, Iran — “and the list goes on and on,” he said. Mr. Busch stated that gender-based violence is present in the U.S. with institutional assaults on women’s rights, human rights, and increasing polarization. These realities intersect between gender and violence,” Mr. Busch said.

H.E. Ms. Helen Clark, the Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, was the first Keynote Speaker of Panel 2. H.E. Ms. Clark underlined that impunity against sexual and gender-based crimes must be resolved in order to combat violence against women. There is a lack of public awareness and effective response mechanisms. According to H.E. Ms. Clark, the reason for the gaps in systemic responses is that data is unreliable regarding victims of gender-based violence. In Liberia, a survey was performed after the country’s civil war: 1,600 women were interviewed. It was found that 92% had experienced sexual violence, including rape, during the war. “Women journalists and human rights defenders are at bigger risks,” H.E. Ms. Clark said. “We need the voices of women and girls in these processes. We need action.” She stated that it is the responsibility of all countries to condemn gender-based violence and end impunity against such crimes.

H.E. Ms. Clark listed actions that must be enacted to combat gender-based violence. “States must integrate a comprehensive gender-supportive approach into health services and healthcare,” she said. “States must ensure that healthcare workers have support and training they need for women and children who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence.” H.E. Ms. Clark concluded that priority has to be given to addressing these needs and asked that the actions outlined are seen as essential services.

H.E. Ms. Sophia Tesfamariam Yohannes, the Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the UN was the next Keynote Speaker of Panel Session 2. H.E. Ms. Yohannes spoke about the psychological traumas that women face due to gender-based conflict, and how these issues are “swept under the rug.” There are myriad long-term consequences that are, on the surface, invisible but shape lives. Ambassador Yohannes criticized that in Africa, survivors are not part of the solution. “When the storm is over, there are so many traumatized individuals within the societies” said Ambassador Yohannes. She stressed the fact that gender-based conflict continues to remain as one of the most critical issues in Africa and called for an inclusive action plan where survivors` empowerment will also be a part of the solution.


Khalida Popal, the Founder and Director of Girl Power Organization, was the first panelist of Panel Session 2. She spoke about violations faced by women human rights defenders under authoritarian regimes. Ms. Popal focused her remarks on violence against women in Afghanistan, citing August 2021 when Afghanistan collapsed, and the Taliban took over causing a great backfire on women`s rights. She outlined what Afghan women face: girls are forced to marry, and women cannot live single in an apartment by themselves. School girls are abused and violated on their way to school, and female police and female activists are forced to leave the country. Other women are not allowed to access a passport, and if they are, a male chaperone is required for travel. Female journalists disappear, and female lawyers are forced into hiding. “Women in Afghanistan are fighting for their rights. They want people to support women`s rights. They feel they are forgotten. They feel alone,” Ms. Popal said. She requests the global community to show their support by uniting against the source of violence. “We don’t want the girls of Afghanistan to be child brides. We need voices and support to put pressure on the Taliban.”

Carlos Pedro Mondlane, Judge and President of the Mozambican Judges Association, took the floor as the next panelist. He spoke of the progress of SDG 5.2: the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. Mr. Mondlane referenced attacks on media freedom and on journalists as a “global phenomenon,” which is not limited to women only, but women experience stigmatization at the highest levels. “Attacks against the media take many forms,” he said. “They erode our ability to tell the story.” There is a second pandemic of gender-based violence in South Africa, according to Mr. Mondlane. “South Africa is not a safe space for women.” Misogyny, sexual harassment, and abuse are rampant. But these atrocities no longer shock our society, he said, and because they are so commonplace, news outlets typically do not cover them.

Mr. Mondlane expanded the area of gender-based violence out of conflict zones. “The biggest war zone in the world right now is on the internet, on social media.” Millions of dollars are spent on disinformation and fake news campaigns, and the concocted images are still out there. There are multiple battlefronts women journalists face: violence in the physical world, and psychological violence online. But Mr. Mondlane offered the reality of combating these issues as one must either “put up or shut up.”

Ranjeni Munusamy, Head of Media Relations at GAPP: Government and Public Policy from South Africa overviewed the challenges of reporting for women journalists with a particular focus on South Africa and covered occupational hazards. She underlined that attacks on women journalists target to dehumanize, escalate fear, and erode their ability to tell the true stories. According to Ms. Munusamy, in patriarchal societies with distinctive cultural abusive practices, the violence against women human rights defenders, and media personnel is even higher. Ms. Munusamy underlined that with the increasing authoritarian practices, it takes an instance only for women to be deprived of their role as functional members of society. “The root of the problem is that violence against all women in different professions is normalized,” said Ms. Munusamy.

The last speaker of the session was Jelena Pia-Comella, a Senior International Consultant. She spoke of conflict-related sexual violence as a weapon of war under the International Criminal Court and Rome Statute. In her remarks, Ms. Pia-Comella referred to normative frameworks. She said that “acts of violence have been under-recorded” and cited the power of institutions.

Ms. Pia-Comella said that “sexual and gender-based violence has been widely present in times of armed conflict and yet, due to patriarchal norms and the unequipped national and international criminal laws and systems, these acts of violence have been underreported and under prosecuted as crimes.” According to her, there has been a tendency on the one hand to underestimate the seriousness of sexual and gender-based violence in times of armed conflict, and on the other hand to over-estimate the challenges of investigating it. The result has been an under prosecution of conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes pre-1990s. She concluded her remarks by underlining that the Rome Statute constitutes a robust legal framework that defines and criminalizes conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. However, this framework is not always fully implemented, and advocacy efforts to support it remain siloed. Therefore, according to Ms. Pia-Comella, it is so important to have the Rome Statute universally ratified and implemented.


Effective inclusive and gender-responsive intergovernmental responses to the challenges faced by migrants and refugees throughout the world are critical in realizing the promising motto of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Leaving No One Behind. Internal Displacement Monitoring Center has recorded 59.1 million internally displaced people: 53.2 million affected by conflict and violence while 5.9 million were impacted by climate-related disasters. On the other hand, UNHCR documented the historically high levels of refugees in the first quarter of 2002: 26.6 million refugees who were enforced to leave their homeland due to persecution, war, or systemic human rights violations. Unfortunately, women, youth, and children continue to be hidden in the shadows and unfortunately invisible in the datasets.


The unprecedented increase of refugees enforced migrants and internally displaced individuals poses unique challenges to the full implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals. Successful resettlement of millions of individuals and protecting their right to exercise fundamental human rights is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and security. New migration trends must be analyzed thoroughly to produce comprehensive policy actions as this cross-cutting development issue requires building partnerships at the national, regional, and global levels. Refugees face many obstacles to accessing quality health services not only in their resettlements but also during their risky journey to a safe country, which usually includes crossing borders by walking. With the increasing violence and excessive state violations occurring on several frequently taken routes for refugees on European and Americas borders, women and children suffer disproportionately due to lacking health services.

Keynote for Panel Session 3 Migration and Refugee Policies: Intergovernmental Responses to Recent Displacements was H.E. Ms. Sofia Voultepsi, the Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum in charge of the Integration of Greece. Deputy Minister Voultepsi shared the best-practices of Greece for the integration of refugees, particularly Ukrainian women and unaccompanied children. She said that Greece`s refugee integration policies are based on three pillars. A pre-integration stage aims to ensure a smooth transition to full integration, which facilitates to form cohesive and inclusive societies and prevents social marginalization, poverty and radicalization. Preventative majors of violence and human trafficking is also underlined by Minister Voultepsi as the other crucial frameworks of their policies. In her remarks, she also discussed the vocational training programs offered to women refugees enabling their economic empowerment. Key sectors are listed as agriculture, tourism, construction and manufacturing. Minister Voultepsi also talked about Greece`s collaboration with UNICEF on an innovative program called “All Children in Education”.

Migration and Refugees Session was moderated by Yuksel Durgut, the Spokesperson of the International Journalists Association from Germany. Mr. Durgut started his opening remarks by talking about the enforced migration of dissidents in Turkey as a case study. He said that as a result of the crackdown on human rights for all in Turkey, dozens of renowned journalists, including leading reporters and editors of newspapers and magazines, were placed in detention, or arrested and a total of 620 press credentials were canceled. “The scale of the roundups of jailed journalists was astonishing” underlined Mr. Durgut. He then shared his own enforced migration from Turkey to Germany, as a journalist, his own home was no longer safe for Mr. Durgut. He concluded his remarks by calling attention to the dramatically increasing authoritarian regimes across the world and underlined that enforced migration will also continue to rise as long as the international community cannot stand up to the oppressive regimes.

Marianna Kakaounaki, Journalist at eKathimerini and Documentary Producer, was the first panelist of Panel 3. Ms. Kakaounaki started her remarks by reminding the global audience with the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned three-year-old boy, who died with others trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, which was seven years ago. “Over 700 children have died since then,” Ms. Kakaounaki said. She cited Hafez, an Afghan father whose son died while seeking asylum, who then was faced with 10 years in prison because of it. “Greek authorities decided to act by charging the boy’s father for his death.” Her remarks continued highlighting the cross-cutting issue of migration, refugees, and the SDGs.

Dr. Graham Thom, the Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, was the second panelist. Dr. Thom discussed the climate crisis inducing waves of migration. “Climate change alone does not cause displacement,” he said. “People’s reasons to move are always multi-faceted.” Dr. Thom added that climate change amplifies these waves of migration, and “sadly, things are getting worse.” The link between climate change and human rights lies in neglect. “When states fail to act, that is when climate change becomes a human rights issue.”

In Pakistan, 80 million people have been impacted by climate change, according to Dr. Thom. Yet when people try to flee their country for safety, externalization policies spring up to keep people at bay. This makes it harder for people to flee. There is great psychological and physical harm induced by not allowing people to cross borders. He spoke of refugees dying in Eastern Europe “trapped in no man’s land last winter.” In Australia, Dr. Thom mentioned that a deterrent to seeking safety is if people try to come by boat. “We do not see countries stepping up,” he said. Instead, there is a presence of politicization of human displacement. Until governments, particularly those in Global North, allow people to cross their borders, climate displacement will be a severe issue.

Nicole Melaku, the Executive Director of the National Partnership for New Americans, was the third panelist. Ms. Melaku focused on conflict-related enforced migration. She spoke of the “right to move and the right to stay.” Her organization incorporates an inclusion strategy and climate justice collaborative driving for a policy change. Ms. Melaku mentioned the unfairness of climate change and displacement: “These are not people who are creating the climate emergencies, but they will be the most impacted.” Her organization developed a tool kit that preemptively shows an adaptation strategy. Ms. Melaku underlined that “right to move, right to stay” encompasses their main vision. She also indicated that the real changemakers are the enforced migrants and their families, and children.